The Only Way Out Is Through


That’s the thing with grief.  It’s not that there aren’t shortcuts – there are.  I could numb my grief in various ways.  I could compartmentalize my feelings.  I got awfully good at that over the past ten years, at putting my feelings aside so I could deal with the next crisis, and the next one, and the next.  I could take drugs of one kind or another.  I could just open my arms wide to denial, become one with it and pretend that none of this ever happened.

What I know to be true about that is that it won’t work.  It never does.  Sooner or later it will catch up with you.  It will backfire on you.  It’s like that scene in When Harry Met Sally… when Sally finds out that her ex, Joe, is getting married.  She goes on a crying jag that includes all of the crying she didn’t do when the relationship ended.  She tra-la-la-ed her way through the breakup, saying that she was fine, and convincing everybody in her life, including herself, that she was healthy and fine and great and NOTHING TO SEE HERE FOLKS.

Except she’s not.  She’s far from great.  She’s sad and traumatized and hurt and confused and lonely and betrayed and scared.  It all hits her at once, a tsunami of emotion. 

The only way out is through.  It’s awful.  What it is, is this.  It’s waking up every single day, seeing a wall of flames in front of you, and deciding that you’re going to walk through it.  It’s going to hurt like hell, you say to yourself.  You don’t want to do it, you say.  You want someone to come along and put that fire out for you, to show you a different path.  To airlift you out of there, to safety, to a place that’s peaceful and beautiful and easy.  You want that, but you make that decision, every day, that you’re not going to take the easy way out.  You’re not going to numb it.  You are going to walk into that wall of flames, right into it, and you are going to let it burn you.  You are going to let it hurt you.  You are going to lean into it until it feels like it will consume you.  You’re going to cry your way through it, scream your way through it, run and claw and kick and shout and curse and sometimes you will lie down in the middle of it and find yourself wishing that it would just reduce you to ash, because then at least the next day you wouldn’t have to face it again.  But somehow, from someplace you didn’t even know existed inside of you, you find the strength to stand back up.  You square your shoulders. You head back into the flame.  You lean into it.  You let it burn. 

And you trust, you don’t even know how but you do, that there will come a day when you will wake up and there will be smaller flames.  Flames that maybe spring up and catch you unawares sometimes, but not a wall, not something that can swallow you whole.  Brush fires, not a raging wildfire.  Not an inferno, not anymore.  And when that day comes, you will think, this is manageable.  I can pick my way through this.  And maybe your world will never be completely without fire (is anybody’s?) but maybe it can be a world where fire is something you don’t need to fear, not in the same way.  Where it can be a source of warmth, of solace.  Of light in the darkness.  Maybe it can be a reminder that you survived it, that you are stronger than anybody knows, not even you because when you look back at the wall of flames, now behind you, you wonder how anybody ever passes through it.  And yet you did.  You did it.

I hate this fire.  I walk through it anyway.  I lean in.  I let it burn.  It hurts.  I hate it.  I just keep saying it, over and over.  The only way out is through.  The only way out is through.  The only way out….


12 thoughts on “The Only Way Out Is Through

  1. Aimee….so much honesty, so much pain. I don’t know how you bear it, but I thank God that somehow you keep taking that next step, getting back up, and not drowning it in alcohol or drugs. The understanding of the necessity of going *through* as the only way out is clearly painful in itself, much less acting on it. I am in awe of your endurance. May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

  2. Nice metaphor, Aimee. I’m so sorry you’re also going through agonizing grief. Mine feels more like I’ve fallen into a deep, dark hole in the earth. The dark is overwhelmingly lonely and scary too. It’s cold and I often feel numb. I try to claw my way out and occasionally see the light of day… in a flower blooming, an eagle crossing my path…or a hug. Moments like these make me want to keep trying. It’s also knowing that my loved ones are waiting for me and wanting me to come back to them. That’s what gives me strength to keep trying.
    As you so eloquently wrote, we must go through our grief in order to heal.
    God speed, my friend.

    • Beautiful, beautiful metaphor Aimee. It’s how I feel right now dealing with my father’s death. It hurts so much, but the pain will eventually get less and less. I just have to get up and walk through the pain. Bill Bixby, the actor who played the normal version of the Incredible Hulk, once gave an interview where he talked about the death of his son. He said that the death of a child is something you never get over, you get through it, but you never get over it. Just know that I’m always here to help you through, however large the wall may seem. 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on Maureen Hains and commented:
    A very true, very real, very honest look at grief and loss and struggling to survive it all. A must read!

    I couldn’t have written it better.

      • Thank YOU for the blog! Seriously… I am right there with you dealing with grief and trauma and it is VERY much like having to decide to walk straight through fire. I had never considered it that way. I’m coming out on the other side… and very angry. So angry sometimes it scares me. But it gets better… laughter some how infiltrates my day and takes me by surprise.

        To quote the great Sally Field in Steel Magnolias, “I wanna know WHY?!” … a question with no answer. SO frustrating.

        Keep walking and don’t beat yourself up when you have the moments of needing to sit on the sideline or take the scenic route, escaping the hustle and bustle of to-do lists and expectations.

        Keep breathing.

        You are not alone.

  4. Down the rabbit hole into a wall of fire…I too had not looked at it that way…you have written with perfection what it’s like. you took me back and made me see how far I’ve come on my journey. What grips me now is never knowing who or what is going to trigger the wall of fire…again…some tiny, seemingly insignificant thing can send me into a death spiral of hysteria. The most insidious thing I’ve found where I am now is the sadness…not grief…sadness at knowing I will never, ever find Don on this earth again.

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